Thursday, July 10, 2008

Calling Technical Support

Massively just posted an interview with Cheyenne Mountain Entertainment about the forthcoming MMORPG Stargate Worlds, based on the TV series(es). For those of you who haven't watched the shows, the adventuring team typically includes a scientist and someone who can interpret the local/alien languages and cultures. Of course, being a TV show with a regular weekly cast, these irreplaceable technical experts are handed guns and expected to shoot enemies, but I digress.

(Yes, the show's premise is that the government is keeping a Stargate capable of interstellar travel hidden in an Air Force base under Cheyenne Mountain, and that this gate has been used to fight wars against the Aliens who built the pyramids. Still, I draw the credibility line at the point where the US Air Force is organizing a commando mission vital to Earth's survival, they for some reason refuse to send any more than four people, and they pick the world expert in Stargate technology and the world expert in Alien languages and culture over, I dunno, expendable people who shoot guns for a living. You'd think that I would have gotten used to this aspect of the show after 14 seasons of SG-1 and Atlantis. ;))

Anyways, the MMORPG will include Scientist and Archaeologist as playable character classes. Though they supposedly will be able to play a role in firefights (I'd sigh, but, again, this is consistent with the source material), they're also going to be needed to deal with technical challenges (the example used in the interview is a minigame to open a locked door). Non-combat character classes aren't entirely new to MMORPG's, but what happens if you're in the enemy mothership and you hit a locked door but you don't have a scientist in your party? Apparently you can call other players, who might be back at home base or otherwise not where you are at, and have them hack the door for you remotely (they even get the exp for this).

This is an intriguing concept. I won't go so far as to call it a good idea until I see it in action; the practical consequence might be that everyone has a scientist alt parked in the base so that one member of the party can quick log their alt to solve the puzzles before switching back to the actual character on the mission. There are also various social implications to consider; will players feel that this is a service being provided where in-game currency changes hands (and, if so, who gets paid, the person who gets to go through the now-open door, or the guy who got free exp sitting in town)? Will scientists and archaeologists ever get groups, or will min-maxers prefer to bring all combat specialists, secure in the knowledge that they can call in tech support later? Will there be drama in PUG's over whose alt gets the door-opening exp?

All of which brings me back to my initial comment: "intriguing". In World of Warcraft, there isn't really any way to justify having a Rogue in Ironforge tell you how to pick the lock to Blackrock Spire over the out-of-character chat channel. As a result, there are serious limits to how many locked doors there can be in the world (and all of them have to have keys that can, conveniently enough, be obtained by killing someone or doing something outside of the locked door), how many traps there can be in the dungeon etc. In a modern setting such as Stargate, communications with your home base would actually exist in game, and you could very well take a picture of the Ancient writings you need translated or hook up a laptop with a modem to the door and have someone at the base take care of that for you. (Again, technically this isn't consistent with the setting, because that expert should be following you around where they could be shot and killed, but these are allowances we make for games. ;)) As a result, Stargate Worlds can have puzzles anywhere they feel the puzzles would be required, rather than only in places where they are sure someone present can solve them.

This game has a ways to go, and I will be shocked if they make their supposed 2008 launch date (the interview hints that they know this as well), but it's interesting to hear that someone somewhere is thinking a bit outside the box.

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